A full-frame CSC with a 36.3-million-pixel sensor – the Sony Alpha 7R promises much but does it deliver? Read the Sony Alpha 7R review to find out...
Sony Alpha 7R at a glance:
- 36.3-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor
- Sony Bionz X processor
- ISO 50-25,600
- Sony E mount
- NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity
- 2.359-million-dot EVF
- 3in, 921,600-dot LCD screen
- Around £1,699 body only
- See sample images taken with the Sony Alpha 7R
Sony Alpha 7R review – Introduction
I first heard speculation that Sony was planning a full-frame compact system camera at the photokina trade show back in 2010. However, it was really only after the release earlier this year of the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1- the world’s first digital compact camera with a full 35mm-sized sensor – that the talk really started to hot up.
In its RX series, Sony has created a strong line-up of cameras that have exploited a gap in the market – and it is this philosophy of identifying niches that lies behind the Alpha 7 and 7R.
By placing a 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor in a mirrorless compact system camera, Sony has created another world first. Of course, Leica has used full-frame sensors in its digital rangefinder cameras for some years, but the high price tag of the M-system cameras excludes many photographers. So Sony has not only fitted a full-frame sensor into a camera that is smaller and lighter than a Leica M-series digital rangefinder, but it has done so at a fraction of the cost. The Alpha 7 costs £1,350 body only, while the Alpha 7R is £1,700. These are not pocket-money prices, by any means, but a Leica M (Type 240) will set you back around £5,000, and that’s before you have bought a lens for it.
Furthermore, the Sony Alpha 7R isn’t just the start of a new system. The short flange back distance of the E mount means that virtually every DSLR lens can be mounted on the camera via an adapter – even those coveted Leica lenses.
Sony Alpha 7R review – Features
Without doubt, it is the Sony Alpha 7R’s 36.4-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor that is going to make all the headlines. It is similar to that used in the Nikon D800, but Sony has developed a new ‘gapless’ design where there is no space between the micro-lenses. This is intended to draw more light into each photodiode, to reduce noise and improve low-light performance and dynamic range.
The gapless micro-lenses are placed at slight angles as they spread out towards the edges of the frame, the idea being to improve light gathering and sharpening of images at the very edges of the frame. Although the short 18mm back-focus distance of the E mount is one of its main selling points, the distance also means that light will be hitting the lens from very close range, which may cause an issue with distortions when using wideangle lenses.
Ensuring that the maximum possible resolution of the sensor is realised, the Alpha 7R does not have an anti-aliasing filter. I’ll discuss the resolution of the camera in more detail later, but needless to say, the amount of detail that can be resolved from this combination is extremely impressive. Basically, Sony is offering the resolution of the Nikon D800E in a far smaller and lighter body, in a camera that is again cheaper than its Nikon counterpart.
For the first time, Sony is giving a designation to its Bionz processing system, calling the processor in the Alpha 7 and 7R the Bionz X. It is about three times as fast as the previous Bionz system, and it allows the camera to have a sensitivity range of ISO 50-25,600. One thing that isn’t fast, however, is the shooting rate, which is only 1.5fps. This can be increased to 4fps if the camera’s AF and metering are switched off between shots, which would be acceptable in some situations such as shooting in a studio environment, using a small lens aperture. Given that the Alpha 7R isn’t really designed with sports and wildlife photographers in mind, the shooting rate shouldn’t be particularly restrictive, especially for landscape, travel and even studio photographers.
Like most new cameras, the Sony Alpha 7R has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC (Near Field Communication) to allow remote shooting and image transfer to a smartphone or tablet, via the Sony Play Memories mobile app. Also like most recent cameras, the Alpha 7R can be charged via Micro USB – or, as Sony brands it, the Multi Function Port. As I discussed in my test of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 (AP 7 December), this is extremely useful for charging on the go. Of course, a conventional charger is included in the box.